Germany's populism may backfire

MARKAR ESAYAN
Published
German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a joint news conference in Gaziantep, Turkey, following her visit along with top European Union officials, April 23, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a joint news conference in Gaziantep, Turkey, following her visit along with top European Union officials, April 23, 2016.

What we see currently in Berlin is an effort by Merkel to play a handy populism card in the upcoming elections and prevent rivals from scoring against her with anti-Turkey rhetoric

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's remarks about Turkey on Aug. 16 have naturally had repercussions in Ankara. In fact, when one chooses to communicate via media, one's primary objective must be to create these reactions. There is an anti-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and anti-Turkey sentiment that has become all the more functional due to the upcoming Federal Parliament (Bundestag) elections on Sept. 24. Merkel also seems to be carried away by this current. However, Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), considered the favorite in the elections, should stay away from this sort of populism, which is extensively used by the Greens and Social Democratic Party (SPD) and, of course, radical right and left parties. Not only does government responsibility require that, but also upsetting, disturbing and bothering millions of EU citizens of Turkish origin is surely not a democratic approach.

Turkey and Germany have long been allies and friends. There are Turks living in Germany and Germans living in Turkey. In addition to that, there are extensive economic relations between the two countries. For some reason, however, irresponsible attitudes and offensive discourses coming from Germany in recent years, coupled with its refusal to allow Erdoğan and Turkish ministers to address Turkish-Germans, have poisoned relations.

On the other hand, crisis issues are not properly communicated to the public. For example, take the issue of visiting military bases in Turkey. Ankara does not object to visits of Bundestag Defense Committee members to the İncirlik and Konya Air Bases. The problem is that some radical leftist deputies from the Bundestag who openly support the PKK and other terrorist groups want to join these delegations. The issue is communicated in such a way that Ankara seems as if it arbitrarily rejects the committee members as a whole without any reason at all. But that is not the case and no one is explaining the matter correctly.

Saying bilateral relations are going through a difficult period, Merkel declared that the customs union agreement will not be updated and that Berlin has to take some additional measures. She claimed again, although it had been refuted, that German investors face difficulties in Turkey, but she said still that they need to continue dialogue despite existing problems.

This is what was particularly problematic in her statement:

"We cannot ignore the fact that Turkey is not only Erdoğan and his government. Almost 50 percent said no to the recent constitutional changes and they have expectations from us. We must continue the hard bargaining and not engage in wrong deals. But we also cannot send wrong signals to that 50 percent who have their hopes in us and want to be in dialogue with us."

Turkey is a great sovereign country. It is just natural that it would reject such blatant interference in its internal affairs. Merkel behaves as if she is a domestic political actor in Turkey by supporting a certain political position, and even goes beyond that by saying that Germany is the hope of the defenders of that position. What does that mean? Can a country openly take sides in a political struggle in another country? Could Germany easily do this to another country?

Merkel's plan for next elections

What we see here is an effort to play a handy populism card in the upcoming elections and prevent rivals from scoring against her through anti-Turkey rhetoric. It can also be interpreted as a balancing act to take sides with Ankara's opponents against Turkish-Germans. Again, it may be an attempt to heal her wounded pride over the issues of bases and agents before the public.

But the truth is that it is overlooked that the anti-Turkey campaign is not cost free as believed, and that it may even cost Germany a lot. Of course, Germany may be investing in the idea that those close to it will take the helm of Turkey's government in the 2019 elections or in another coup attempt.

Indeed, although German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has belatedly expressed regret and taken a stance against the July 15 coup, Germany has continued its pro-coup position. Many Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) suspects have taken shelter in Germany. At least three terrorist organizations, including the PKK and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), which inflict great damage on Turkey, easily move around in Germany. There is has still been no response to the 4,500 files concerning extradition requests Erdoğan presented to Merkel. Recently, it was reported that Adil Öksüz, the fugitive suspected mastermind of the July 15 coup attempt, is in Germany. German officials gave a flippant answer to questions about the issue, saying they have no information concerning his whereabouts.

Playing the EU card

Germany also deliberately ties its relations with Turkey to EU-Turkey relations. It abuses the EU during its crisis with Turkey by involving EU funds. In fact, it becomes clear once again that the EU is under Germany's control.

What is the logic in saying there are judges in Berlin with regard to Ankara's extradition requests for terrorists or Turkish dual citizens on trial in Germany while trying to pressure Turkey's judiciary with EU funds. What would have Berlin felt if Ankara had supported and harbored the members of such terrorist groups as the Red Army Faction, which caused great pain in that country in the past.

During the April 16 referendum in Turkey, many German politicians conducted an opposition campaign, chastising those who supported the referendum. And now Merkel talks as if she is the leader of those who voted no.

Erdoğan has recently called on Turkish-German voters to not vote for "anti-Turkey parties." In an atmosphere of deliberate hostility to Turkey, Erdoğan's call sounds pretty naïve and democratic.

Ankara will try its best to stem the escalation of this crisis. Indeed, after the false allegations of pressure on German companies operating in Turkey, the government met with representatives of these companies and asserted that there is no such thing. However, Germany has distorted this initiative, telling the public that Turkey is frightened in another example of the malaise called populism.

But Turkey's constructive attitude does not mean Germany's unfair measures against Ankara and its unacceptable discourses will get off scot free. Turkey is not what it used to be. That may be what really angers the German government.

Aside from that, Ankara views the developments in Syria and the issues of FETÖ, the PKK, its Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) as existential threats. As Erdoğan said at the same meeting, no issue is of higher priority than those related to Turkey's survival. In fact, all the other issues are just details.

Turkey knows very well what others want to do inside and beyond its borders. Germany cannot behave as rationally as Britain. This is a sign of political weakness. Turkey will work with all countries intending to collaborate with it on equal terms and without ceding control to them. But it will resist with full force those showing enmity toward it. This is not a matter of preference. Again, everyone knows that those Western leaders criticizing Turkey would behave like Erdoğan if they governed Turkey. Whether they would act as bravely and wisely as he does is another question. But I predict that every wise politician sees Erdoğan is doing the right thing for Turkey. Indeed, backstage remarks confirm this.

Working with terrorist groups instead of a sovereign and legitimate state and an elected government involves certain costs. These costs should not be underestimated and regime change in Turkey should not be sought. There should also be no effort spent toward this purpose.

On July 15, Turkey showed the world, with an epic of democracy, that it would not surrender. A secular, democratic and Western-oriented Muslim nation being hurt so much is beyond comprehension.

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